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Dream, Science & Freud

Dreams have always been a nightmare for scientists for their inherent complexity to be understood and the various postulates to validate them as a cognizable phenomenon, despite which they remain a least understood paradox.

There have been a number of experiments and researches carried out to understand this intangible process, yet the end results are not so definitive to arrive at a conclusion.  In ancient civilizations, dreams were considered as a means of divine intervention in the prophecy of future events and hence were spiritual and sacrosanct.

They classified dreams into two categories, one in which the interpretation is straightforward and the other with a hidden meaning. The symbolic dreams were interpreted by the ancient with the help of priests, or holy men.

There was a belief that the meaning of a dream can be understood with the help of another dream. The dreamer is allowed to sleep in a holy place where the dreamer is supposed to have another dream explaining the previous symbolic one.

This technique is known as dream incubation, a method in which the dreamer decides beforehand what is to be dreamt. For instance, if you think of any particular event or memory before sleeping, you may dream about the same.

There is another technique known as lucid dreaming in which the dreamer has control over what is being dreamt. 


Oneirology, as we know the science of dreams, has no concrete knowledge about why dreams occur rather there are answers to what happens while one is dreaming. Science can understand only very limited about dreams.

While we sleep our heart rate, breathing level and blood pressure varies along with some varied brain activity whereas our body becomes completely but temporarily paralyzed. 

Also, a dream is a combination of visual, verbal and emotional elements that orchestrates a story often in an incoherent manner that may or may not be registered unambiguously in the memory cells. When you sleep you go through a series of five stages that make up one sleep cycle.

Normally there can be 4 to 5 sleep cycles during a night’s sleep.  The depth of sleep gradually increases from stage 1 to stage 4 and ends up with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the fifth stage, during which we start seeing dreams. During this stage, our brain emits alpha waves, as it does during wakefulness.

During the third and fourth stages, we experience a deep sleep during which delta waves are emitted, whereas the first two stages our sleep are shallow and are characterized by alpha and theta waves emission by the brain.


The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud reasoned out a widely criticized and acclaimed version of ‘Interpretation of Dreams’, which said dreams are the reflections of a mind’s repressed desires that it long for.

Freud’s understanding of the mind is very much interesting and is worth knowing. A mind has three parts namely Id, Ego and the Super-ego according to him.

The Id is born along with the body and soul and hence is crude that wants everything, even though is peculiar with every individual. It understands no norms, restrictions or situations, but it can only yell at what it wants badly. A child can cry for hours and it needs no justifications for its reasoning. That’s Id. 

At a later stage develops ego, which chooses what is realistic from the demands of Id and does act within the socially acceptable framework to achieve them- remember, purely based on the feasibility of the demands. A child may cry for hours but not a boy. Now the mind knows that the physical entity is not alone but is in a society.

‘like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse’

Freud, Sigmund

Then develops the super-ego during the age of 3-5, which learns from parents or the society about what is good and bad. A sense of ethics is built up during this stage and hence super-ego nurtures values that are socially accepted to turn the human system into a complete one.

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So coming back to dreams, the repressed desires of the Id are interpreted by the brain while we sleep that runs as dreams by picking up some random imagery and vocal registered in our memory.

The reason why Freud’s analysis becomes controversial is his findings are not predictive in nature, but they are very much subjective. In other words, his findings don’t have a common definite boundary that holds true with every human being in order to make them theoretically explicable. 

Psyche differs from people to people and hence are their dreams and the ways their brains interpret them.

Thus, a same dream may not hold true for two different individuals.  Thus, we have understood many things around the central theme of dreams, yet not nailed the target. Hence, we are not far knowledgeable than our ancestors when it comes to the understanding of dreams.

Featured Image Source: Livescience

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